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Photo of Katherine May Tearle

Katherine May Tearle

Women’s Police Sergeant
Birthplace Berkshire Bisham England Date of Birth: December 1, 1885 Date of Death: March 1, 1967


Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by) : Katherine Mary Tearle

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Gender: Female 

Date and Place of Birth: December 1885, Bisham, Berkshire 

Date and Place of Death: March 1967, Surrey Northern, Surrey

Nationality: British



Childhood: According to the 1891 England census, Katherine had brother and sisters, Minnie Tearle, Emily, Bessie Tearle John Herbert Tearle and Samuel Hugh Tearle. Katherine was the second youngest child. Katherine also had older siblings, Jeffrey J. Tearle and Martha Tearle who was 10 and Martha who was 3 ½ according to the 1881 England census. Katherine also had a half-sister called Minnie Endall, from her father’s previous relationship.

Parents: Enoch and Elizabeth Tearle 

Parent’s occupations: Enoch Tearle had been in the army but Elizabeth is not recorded as having an occupation.

Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: Unknown

Occupation: School teacher in 1911, housekeeper in 1939

Place of residence at Gretna: Unknown 

Job title at Gretna: Constable then a Sergeant in the Women’s Police Service 

Marital status: Married

Children: Unknown but not recorded as having any children

Travels: Katherine trained in London for the Women’s Police Service and worked in Hereford Munitions Factory and in Walsall for the WPS.

Awards/recognitions: Unknown 

Trivia / any other information:

The First World War created a demand for women in the police, therefore Katherine would have given up her job as a teacher (1911 census) to support the Women’s Police Service during the War. Duties of women police officers in munition factories involved searching for dangerous and forbidden items on workers like cigarettes and pen knives and anything else that could cause an explosion. Women police in munitions factories also oversaw factory operatives in time-keeping, pay queues and the canteen. Katherine would have been doing these duties.

This photograph was taken at HM Gretna munitions factory, likely in 1916 but prior 7th November 1916 as Katherine was a Sergeant when she found cordite on munitions worker Ellen Routledge at Mossband and not a Constable as in this photograph:

‘Ellen Routledge, a munitions worker at Mossband, was found guilty of stealing a stick of cordite worth one shilling on 7th November 1916. The cordite was found tucked into the top of her stocking by Police Sergeant Catherine May Tearle. The judge at Longtown said, “It is undesirable that an article made by a secret process should be taken from the compound, as it might easily get into the hands of the enemy.” She was fined £1 and ordered to pay costs.’

As Munition production had started in Gretna by April 1916 and Katherine is mentioned in a case in 1916, it is likely that she policed Gretna in 1916.

The photograph and account also suggest that Katherine had progressed from a Constable to a Sergeant whilst at Gretna


After working at Gretna and Herford munitions, Katherine was sent to police Walsall in 1918. In June 1918, Tearle was one of two policewomen who caught four boys playing a gambling game called pitch and toss. Despite the boys running away, Tearle caught one of them. On the same day, Tearle was one duty with the other policewoman in Reedswood Park and spotted a group of men card gambling. After Tearle and her fellow officer climbed over the railings the men ran away but Tearle caught one of them.


Katherine is mentioned in a Roll of Honour, which you can see here.

Tearle, Katherine Mary, 1885 – Pioneer of the WPS –

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